Netherlands, One-day Road Race, 139km
The Ronde van Gelderland is perhaps unique in that it started as a race for men in 1957 and was then held almost annually (except 1975-1981 and 2001) until 2003 when a women's race was added, then continued from that date to the present as a women's race only. For the first five years of the women's competition it was dominated by Dutch riders - Yvonne Troost-Brunens won in 2003, Leontien van Moorsel in 2004, Suzanne de Goede in 2005, Bertine Spijkerman in 2006 and then Marianne Vos in her second professional year in 2007. Canadian Anne Samplonius became the first (and so far the only) non-European rider to win with her 2008 victory, then German Ina-Yoko Teutenberg won in 2009 before Kirsten Wild took the honours back for the Netherlands a year later. Teutenberg became the first rider to have won twice with another victory in 2011 and de Goede repeated her feat 2012. In the last few years, the Australian flag has also been a regular on the podium lists courtesy of Rochelle Gilmore; the owner, manager and rider of the British-registered Wiggle-Honda team was second in 2009 and 2010 and third in 2011.
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Very much a race of two halves, the first 41km in the forested Veluwe features several climbs whereas the remaining 98km are almost entirely flat. The altimetry profile as printed in the official race book is somewhat unintentionally misleading, being "squashed up" so that the climbs appear far steeper than they in fact are: the first climb is Terlet, gaining some 75m in 4km to reach 90m above sea level 9km after the start line, has an average gradient of only 1.8%, but the first half climbs more rapidly before it levels out approaching the top; Kemperbergweg reaches 80m at 20.4km and features 40m of climbing in 2km, an average gradient of 2%; Moonikensteeg rises to 75m at 28.1km, doing so in 0.9km gives an average gradient of 4.4%; the pleasingly-named Emmapyramide reaches 82m at 32.8km with 40m of climbing in 1.4km for an average of 2.9%; Zijpenberg is the highest hill in the race, climbing to 107m at 34.8km with an average gradient of 2.3% on the 3.3km ascent; final climb Posbank tops out at 95m 40.9km from the start, the 75m gained in 2.2km giving it an average gradient of 3.1% - the highest in the race.
Even coming within the same 41km, those are not altitudes and gradients that would be especially taxing to a professional cyclist. However, Gelderland has further trials for them: the remainder of the race following the IJssel river valley may be flat but it's subject to strong winds that blow in off the North Sea from the north-west - the direction in which the riders will be traveling for most of the way back to Apeldoorn. The sprinters will have used up more energy than the climbers in the Veluwe, whereas the climbers don't have the strength to fight the wind - if it's windy, therefore, nobody has an obvious advantage as the finish line draws near.
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Having completed the climb, there are 7.2km to the right turn onto Koningsweg and then 4.2km past Noordoostelijk van Schaarsbergen to a left at a roundabout onto Kempberweg for the second climb leading to Arnhem at 23.7km. At the end of the road they turn left onto Schelmeseweg and proceed for 1.4km to a right turn onto the wide Cattepoelseweg, taking it for 1.2km until they reach a left and progress along Wagnerlaan - the junction is complicated, but the "lane" is a wide, smooth dual carriageway road and can be taken at high speed. After passing underneath Apeldoornweg, the road becomes the Bosweg; 1.27km the route turns left onto Rosendaalseweg, then left again 156m later to begin the third climb on Monnikensteeg. After passing a sportsground on the right, a right turn at traffic lights carries the race back onto the Schelmeseweg leading into Rosendaal. A bridge over the E45 motorway takes the road into forest, then left at a roundabout 32.3km from the start takes the riders onto Kerklaan. 0.5km later, at a pretty cottage surrounded by trees, they continue straight ahead on Beekhuizenweg and ride through the forest to a junction with Boerenallee, which climbs for 0.5km to the top of Emmapyramide at a right/left S-bend (with trees growing right on the edges of the road, conditions may be slippery and punctures are likely) after which the road becomes known as the Bovenallee. A short way ahead, the riders reach a T-junction and turn left to rejoin Beekhuizenweg which climbs to the top of Zijpenberg.
2.5km further on, a right turn follows the edge of the forest along Snippendaalseweg; the road surface along this section is formed of regular, flat, brick-like cobbles, smooth enough not to slow things down as the riders battle to find places on the much narrower road. The route soon heads back into the forest, leading for 2.5km to Rheden, a fast and potentially dangerous descent to a left turn at 39.8km onto Arnhemsestraatweg and, 1.1km later, another left at another roundabout for Schietbergseweg and the Posbank climb. At 43.1km, with all the climbing over, a right turn by a picnic area with a viewpoint takes the race to the Beekhuizenweg, along the forest edge to another right at 44.4km for the Holleweg. The Holleweg becomes the Rozenbos, then a right followed by a left at a T-junction leads onto the Hoofdstraat at De Steeg. A short way ahead, the IJssel can be seen to the right, marking the change in the character of the race - from now on, with all the climbs over, the race passes through stereotypically flat Dutch countryside.
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Heeringstraat travels south before turning sharply right onto Nieuw Schuilenberg, then a left leads back to Ecofactorij where the riders reverse the route taken earlier along Grote Woodhuis and Woudhuizermark into the final 3km, then back along Barnewinkel, De Groene Voorwarts and Laan van Erica to reach the final left turn onto De Voorwarts. The route encircles the Omnisport Velodrome, then enters the last 800m along De Voorwarts. With this section being flat and straight, the race looks set to finish with a high-speed bunch sprint unless a break has succeeded in staying away.
Argos-Shimano weren't having any of it and understandably so because in Kirsten Wild they have a sprinter who, if there was any justice in the cycling world, would be as much a household name as Mark Cavendish; if they could bring the two leaders back and thus make sure the race ended in a bunch sprint, they'd virtually guarantee themselves a victory. Two of Wild's team mates, Under-23 European Pursuit Champion Amy Pieters and Most Aggressive rider from the 2012 Holland Ladies' Tour Willeke Knol, laid down a fine example of what domestiques are employed to do when they found new reserves of strength to bring down the two more experienced leaders, ensuring that the rest of the Argos team could put Wild where she needed to be. The plan worked splendidly - 38 riders approached the finish together, but none of them was able to overpower Dutch powerhouse Wild.
1. Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 3h31'04"
2. Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle Honda) ST
3. Chloe HOSKING (Hitek Products-UCK) ST
4. Carmen SMALL (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
5. Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) ST
6. Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitek Products-UCK) ST
7. Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8. Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) ST
9. Jolien D’HOORE (Lotto-Belisol) ST
10. Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank) ST